Experiencing the Slums

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Today we visit Nur A’Iniah. She is one of last year’s participants who conducted a two months course to learn how to sew and make traditional balinese clothes.

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On our motor bikes, Gusti from WKP and I leave one of the crowded main roads in the Indonesian city Denpasar and enter areas with more and more narrow roads. At more than 30 degree Celsius, the odours of food stalls, open sewage and food shops generate the typical smell of South East Asian slums. Accompanied by curious pedestrians, we mount from our scooters and descend slippery stairs. Nur A’Iniah lives in this „street“, together with her family of four. We take off our shoes and enter the 2,5m by 2,5m house.

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The four of us hardly fit on the floor of the tiny room. The lower room is the families dining, living and sleeping area. The small chamber under the tin roof is accessible by a self made ladder and accommodates the sewing machine and the hangdry laundry that Nur A’Iniah washes for her neighbours.
The conversation is done in Indonesian, I only understand parts of what is being said, the important parts are translated for me. Nur A’Iniah seems happy to me, she laughs a lot and appears glad about our visit.
She tells us that the narrow passageway that leads to her house floods whenever it rains (which is almost daily these days) and is therefore very slippery. When it rains for a longer time, the water even reaches inside the house so the family has to sleep in the upper room. „But my children don’t like it up there, it is way too hot under the tin roof“, she says.
I ask about her business and learn that Nur A’Iniah is operating a small laundry service and works in a family member’s warung (small restaurant) next to her sewing business. She proudly tells us that she made a lot of new clothes in the beginning but that wasn’t so profitable.

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By now, she is known by her neighbours for making repairs, which gives her around 150.000 Rupiah per week (approx. 11€). Smiling, she explains an interesting pricing strategy: „I realised that the business goes much better when I don’t ask for any fixed prices. My customers pay whatever they deem appropriate. That is why they are almost always very happy with my service and come back.“ It is an advantage for her that the people in her area are so poor that they rather repair clothes until they are really not usable anymore instead of buying new ones.

After almost two hours we say our good byes. I am impressed by this lady whose entire possessions are probably worth less than my smartphone. And yet she is such a content and happy person who works towards realizing her dreams.